Making DAY 3 (Part 3) – Post Production
We got the last shot? Okay, cool. Guys, I’m going home to pack — gonna go to Peru for a few weeks. Be back later!
That’s kind of how it went. After wrapping, I was fortunate enough to have a mandatory cool-down period before moving to the editing phase. While I didn’t want things to come to screeching halt due to my absence, I trusted the film’s progress to my editors and left the cut in very capable hands while I was away. During my weeks in South America, I couldn’t help but wonder how it was going with Day 3. I watched the raw footage on my laptop periodically, getting excited — which to me was a good sign. Solid editors are hard to come by I think — and if you find yourself in skilled hands, thank your lucky stars and keep them nearby.
Coming back to the States, I stayed very much involved in the editing process. Obviously this is going to be the case for any director passionate about their project. The original script had considerably more Senator and Scientist screen-time, which during post we learned was hurting our story in the long run and diluting tension. A lot of their later cutaways/lines were reduced to small offscreen snippets or removed completely. Truthfully, I think I should have caught this in the scripting process and saved the actors some memorization, but sometimes you don’t really know until the sequence is in front of you.
For the perfectionists/control-freaks out there, you’re going to have to make a decision at some point during your creation process and acknowledge something just as I did. I’m too close to the material. Too close to edit this thing myself and too close to only use my judgment all the way through. Can it be done? Sure. But I had willing and able editors ready for the raw footage, and I have a handful of very trusted friends and colleagues itching to see rough cuts — so why not use those resources. I feel like focus groups are valuable as long as you don’t lose sight of what you were initially intending to make. Since everyone will undoubtedly have an opinion, they can muddy the water and just ‘Frankenstein’ your project; so be sure you’re aware what you need them for… They can help answer valuable questions in terms of how the film is playing for those unfamiliar with the story. “Does the Agent come off as willing to learn — or a douche?” “Did the bit about the mirror make sense? Because that’s important…” Fresh eyes were extremely helpful as the cut progressed through its iterations.
As we edited this thing, we were laying the groundwork for a rich and textured soundscape. We are pretty much in one room with five actors for the entirety of the short, and it’s a bit like allowing the space to become our sixth character. Now, for the perfectionist/control-freaks out there… the sound design is a joy because you get to focus on allll the details! The little shuffle noise his shoe makes as he finishes side-stepping, the metal chain of the zombie’s handcuff*, paper crinkling — you can put all of that in there and while yes, you are basically anal retentive and insane for including the soft sound of someone swallowing their own saliva — you’re also a genius.
*The zombie in the film is handcuffed by his right arm — though I’m not even sure you ever see this in any of our used shots. The sound of the stainless steel bracelets are still there though.
So going back to treating the space like its own character — some serious sound design went into giving the interrogation room its own personality. Working with my friend Ali at Werd Recording, we layered in a handful of low frequency sounds — hums and pulses — they were the heartbeat of the room. When things get intense, we can escalate that pulse, deepen it, make it loud and present. Conversely, we can shut it down and when the room stops breathing, that’s when you really end up paying attention.
When we visit the flashback scenes in the film (there are three total), they’re the only times we escape the interrogation room. With that departure, we are doing something different visually (lens whacking, warmer colors, dream-like feel) but also through audio. The pulsing drone sounds stop, and we are left with a void in the ambience we’ve created. One particular (pivotal) flashback involves a child doodling, and for this one the room-tone is replaced with a different droning track, as well as an “underwater” track to give it a submerged/drowning feel. We also creep in (non diagetic) music in this one so it’s a big deal. The clear shift in sound design during flashbacks gives those moments additional weight and is beyond satisfying when it pays off properly.
I will say that the tragic thing about these low frequency tones is that it takes more than just laptop speakers for them to work their magic. I always tell people to watch the film on decent headphones or on speakers with good bass — in my opinion, it’s just not the same if you can’t hear the rumblings as they’re supposed to be. Naturally, it makes me nervous sending this off to festivals because if they are watching it via an Online Screener, chances are they’re viewing it on a computer — and if that computer is a laptop, there will likely be no bass — and that could directly affect how they perceive the film.
Our sound design and mix was an intensive process with copious amounts of trial and error and a lot of fine-tuning (perfectionists here, right?). All of that meticulousness paved the way for us to grade this film and emphasize things like tone and mood via color. Having done the lighting tests back in April, we had already decided on a look for the majority of the film. The flashbacks obviously have a different color scheme to them than the interrogation room sequences, but even within the interrogation room, we’re allowed to play with palette to add nuance to the story. This is a semi-spoilery example but in the film, the memory experimentation works. When the Infected starts to recall fragments of his past life, his speech returns, but along with that, the color in his skin comes back. He’s no longer just pale and sickly, but there are hints of red/flesh-tones that emerge and they develop further as he recalls more and more. Some of it couldn’t have been done without our sfx makeup but the color-timing was certainly a significant aid in story-telling.
And that brings us to our final stages of completion. This film is an eight minute genre piece, and with film festivals, I’ve been doing what I can to target niche markets. It’s a zombie film without any blood or gore, and I’ve actually been going for horror fests with the idea that it’s a different take (within the genre) from the bulk of submissions. It’s really not a horror though — it’s much more appropriately classified as a drama. I’ve submitted to a handful so far and thought I’d share a quick tip or two on what I’ve learned.
-An online screener is preferred by the majority of competitions I submitted to. I’ve been submitting using Without A Box to most places but they require you to host your film on their own site (partnered with IMDB). In my opinion, I don’t like the resolution you’re forced to upload (I had to upload as standard def). But I’ve been sending a cover-letter to most festivals with a vimeo link and password so they can watch the film in HD.
– It helps to do a little bit of research on the festival you’re submitting to. I usually write a short [very short!] cover letter to include with each submission. Literally like 3-5 sentences max. It’s not always necessary but for Austin Film Festival for example, it was a good place to mention that I’m a local filmmaker that made this project using a cast and crew based in Austin. It was also a way to reiterate that the submitter (me) is also the writer — and AFF is very much a writer’s film festival.
-Really everybody should know this but the shorter the film, the better your chances of it being programmed. Assuming it’s good…
– Again, common sense but f you are submitting via Without A Box (or I guess anywhere, really), make sure your entry is classified under the right category before you send it. Failing to do this could result in prolonged waiting period for people to get to your film or in extreme cases it could get disqualified. I once competed in the 48 Hour Film Project, and was assigned the genre of Detective Story. It was implied we had to make a 7 minute narrative piece within that genre using specific props, a line of dialogue, and a character name. We did all that — but because we scripted it as a mockumentary, we were disqualified. They wanted a straight up noir, apparently… It’s fine though — we took home the audience award for our doc-style detective film.
-If festivals don’t work out, there are TONS of other avenues to go down. Rejection’s not the end of the world. The market for shorts exists even outside the festival circuit. I can’t say it’s incredibly lucrative or anything, but people want to watch good stories, and emerging talent is super exciting. That being said, do your research on festivals — go to their websites, find out their story — there are probably several that are truly perfect for your film.
I’m going to close this out now. For those of you that made it this far, I hope this has been helpful/entertaining/something of that nature. Joe and I had a blast making this thing, and we’re already itching to do it again. Maybe more explosions in the next project.